May 28th is marked globally as Menstrual Hygiene Day. The day also presents an opportunity to raise awareness of the challenges girls and women face in accessing menstrual hygiene products.
This year, the commemoration is under the theme: Making Menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030. The overarching goal is to build a world, where no one is left behind because they menstruate.
In Ghana, many girls face significant challenges in accessing menstrual hygiene products due to poverty, lack of education, and inadequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities.
Girls who cannot afford sanitary pads and other menstrual products are forced to use improvised materials like torn pieces of clothes and rags to manage their periods, which exposes them to infections.
The high cost of sanitary pads is also pushing some vulnerable girls into unhealthy relationships and sexual exploitations, which is increasing the teenage pregnancy rate and subsequent school drop-out.
For many girls, getting their period means putting their lives on hold. The cultural stigma associated with menstruation put girls in an uncomfortable and embarrassing situation hence, excluding themselves from school and other social activities during their periods.
According to UNESCO, most girls are absent from school for four days in a month and end up losing 13 learning days in every school term. This absence can have a significant impact on their education and future opportunities.
Period poverty and unhygienic spaces to serve girls the time of the month is inimical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) including but not limited to; good health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5) and clean water and sanitation (SDG 6).
Access to menstrual products is a human right and a global health concern. This global threat by nature, has necessitated the need for immediate action by governments and relevant stakeholders.
The Street Children Empowerment Foundation (SCEF) calls on the President of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo, the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Ministry of Education, to as a matter of urgency review the 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products. Sanitary pads are essential products and not luxury items, as such should not be taxed.
Imposing taxes on sanitary pads is a grave injustice and a form of discrimination against women and girls.
The government must commit to keeping girls in school by ensuring that sanitary pads are readily available and free of charge for basic school girls as part of an emergency toolkit. Women and girls have the fundamental right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma.
Let us unite to demand immediate action, eradicate taxes on sanitary pads, and empower girls and women to fulfill their potential without unnecessary barriers.
The time to act is now.
BY OPHELIA ALLOTEY